CRM software runs my life

Tag: communication

Communicating context to drive specific behaviours

Words like “consultant”, “workdriver” and “special projects” still create a PTSD style effect in my head. These words drip with corporate context, very clearly and precisely signalling whether you were succeeding or failing. The email announcing a VP moving to “special projects” triggered a global cascade of watercooler conversations where we each dissected and calibrated their missteps and realigned our own. It feels like a high performing culture because you’re communicating in flow – there are barely any words exchanged but you can replay together how a pattern of behaviour over years became fatal for said VP. It’s almost a cult like sensation. People worry about leaving because they fear never experiencing this level of flow (read: intelligence) ever again?

Tim Fung from Airtasker reminded me of that on his webinar this morning. Why do leaders communicate? His example was a mistake he made, sending an email whilst under stress that the expected working hours were 8:30am – 6pm. On reflection, he wasn’t trying to communicate an expected outcome – people in seats. Instead his company was under serious financial pressure and the next few weeks required a mammoth effort to keep the dream alive, but he failed to communicate that context and lost good people because of it.

So what was Tim trying to communicate? Well the zeitgeist answer would be that he was trying to communicate a cultural expectation. But if your company goals are service quality and people focus, perhaps that internal culture would be counterproductive? No, this wasn’t an attempt at ongoing cultural change.

Tim specifically reflected that the goal of this communication was to set context. He wants to know that when a specific context is shared, a certain set of behaviours are triggered at scale. For example if an “investor presentation” is announced for a few weeks time, an increasingly large ship needs to transform immediately. The operations team cut costs, HR cancels all off-sites, engineering ships the shiny MVP that wasn’t quite ready. This is not a cultural theme that persists during the year, but instead a carefully communicated and indoctrinated context that dictates specific behaviour.

I suppose most of the time this context, just like culture, is set through repetition. But what if you could construct context more deliberately? If there are 3 regular events that are critical to your business every year, how could you communicate the context of those events in a crystal clear way? For example if you are Apple and your company’s innovation appetite pivots on the annual WWDC event, how do you describe that context to a new hire or even a customer?

Pivot points get a lot of discussion in the startup world, but I think these context events are the pivot points every company needs to know, and communicate heavily and precisely.

front cover of book

How to Win Friends and Influence People : Book Review

front cover of bookContrary to the title, this book is not a study in “how to be popular” in a modern world. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The central theory that the book proposes is that simply by being an authentic and positive person you will receive what you are hoping for without even asking. Every one of the 30 lessons is indeed simple, however putting each  into practice in a consistent way, on a daily basis, is anything but simple.

How to Win Friends and Influence People was, for me, a complete revelation. Perhaps the fact that it is written by a male engineer helps, as it clearly lists the ideas and provides simple, but nuanced, examples of it being used in practice. Some of the examples are pretty weak, however at least half of the ideas in the book benefit from a simple real life situation that helps you visualise how it might be implemented. It’s probably the most enlightening book I have ever read.

So what’s the big secret of the book? I would argue that it’s probably different for every person. For me, I was in a professional situation that many engineers can probably sympathise with – I was a strong technical leader, but was insecure in my communications and relationships where technical knowledge wasn’t the defining factor. These interactions were necessary, rather than enjoyable. I remember doing a personality profiling course, where it was revealed that some sales people (extroverts) actually needed to talk to people to recharge – the concept of this seemed so foreign to me!

The lesson that this book taught me, was that you get as much out of a person as you invest into them. Be genuinely interested in them, share your ideas freely, focus on the positive, don’t publicly criticise, use their name and be humble. It all sounds so simple, but ingraining it into your personality so it is a fluid and natural reaction takes a lot of repetition of both reading the book and implementing the ideas. I guess this is why neuroscience has emerged in such a massive way lately! Anyway I am now reading it for the second time in a row, and I am still learning new things and finding things I do wrong on a daily basis. I recommend this book to anyone, but particularly “green” engineers who are self-aware enough to know they could interact with the world better.

My Better Man Project

I love a good self-improvement quest. For me, the most important part of self-improvement is having a goal. This is always easy with career or financial goals, but when examining a more personal area of self-improvement the goals become a little more intangible. I guess this is why I started on a search for a male role model, they make a more tangible personal goal.

Is Don Draper a good role model for me?

In the IT Industry there is really only one person who seemed like a modern role model, and that was Jack Dorsey (who I have mentioned before). His business success speaks for itself, however he is personally not one dimensional. Jack also has a diverse background, understated confidence and the communication skills to convey these dimensions of his personality. He’s a great place to start, but I feel uncomfortable modelling myself on one person. Emulating someone doesn’t add dimensions or make you more genuine, it does the opposite by making you a clone who isn’t true to themselves.

Perhaps what I needed was a maverick role model who gave me the confidence to communicate who I am. I’m looking for someone piercing, inspirational and grounded. Enter Steve McQueen. The guy pretty much personified the maverick – he was a racing car driver and A-list actor, yet his signature pose was the famous Le Mans Salute. There are plenty of people who seem to follow Steve’s fashion or other style guidelines even now. I don’t need to be this unique, but I do love his qualities of being genuine, multi-faceted and inspirational.

Perhaps I was searching for more than a role model, perhaps I was searching for an ideal. I decided (off the back of continual references in “How to win friends and influence people”) to read Benjamin Franklin’s auto-biography. His 13 vitues for life resonated with me, but really are quite dry. I will still try and follow these to make myself successful, but there is a difference between being successful and inspirational. Highly disciplined and intelligent people usually have great success, but there is a sense of loneliness that occurs when you are too one dimensional.

The next phase of my search was instigated by the series Mad Men.  Don Draper covers all my fundamental criteria; he is certainly piercing, intelligent and inspirational. But my God does he have some flaws, which this info-graph summarises beautifully. Then again, it’s these flaws that make him a more genuine and relatable character (person?). Perhaps the goal shouldn’t be to make ones self perfect, but perhaps the goal should focus entirely on communicating who you are? This involves not only being able to communicate your personality in an interesting and accessible way, but also to communicate your vulnerabilities so that people relate to rather than rebut against your views.

Finally, I found someone who writes on this topic in a far more fluent manner than myself. Chris has written a great blog on his Better Man Project. He even touched on my line of thought several times, including his very amusing dissection of Steve McQueen. I have a deep admiration for Chris’s communication ability and transparent self-examinations. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the best way to become a genuinely inspirational person is to write about the struggles along your journey to becoming an inspirational person? This is becoming way too meta.

For now I am running with a Mad Men era hair style, a book of Steve McQueen pictures and quotes and following @Jack on Twitter. Next step is to work on improving my communication skills. Hopefully this blog post is a start.

Jive SBS – The most usable employee Intranet?

Example Jive SBS ScreenshotIntranets often receive a lot of criticism, primarily due to a lack of use and therefore an assumption that they are useless. Personally I think this couldn’t be further from the truth, a poorly used intranet is a clear sign that your company culture is not collaborative. Jive seem to have recognised this, and have thrown the overused “social” keyword at the problem. The result, Jive SBS,  is actually the most usable intranet product that I have ever seen.

Ignore the marketing jargon laden press release, here is what works about Jive SBS:

  • Documents can be grouped, searched and previewed amongst conversations
  • Clear staff directory with dynamic org chart
  • Comment and voting system lets you gather feedback on content in a dynamic and consistent manner
  • Tagging is a good structure for grouping the wide range of content on an Intranet
  • Web based documents are a far better way of collaborating on and revising policies etc.
  • Modular nature to group/personal dashboard is flexible and really makes customisation easy
  • The user interface is clean and user friendly (lots of AJAX, clear/consistent icons and whitespace)

And here is how it doesn’t work:

  • “Friends” doesn’t really apply, maybe “team mates” would be more relevant and useful? Even still…
  • Status updates are distracting and don’t have any real value
  • Activity update lists seem to be inconsistent as far as what is displayed

So basically some elements borrowed from the “social” web do work, but most don’t. In the end the product is just so flexible and easy to use that you can forgive the attempts at creating an internal Facebook.

Company Culture at Netflix

How many companies clearly define their culture and HR policy in a public way? Jack Welch of GE famously held the view that the bottom 10% of the company should be fired every year, but in the days of labor shortages that would be frowned upon. That’s why it was refreshing for me to see this slideshow from Netflix. Have a read for yourself, although be warned it is quite long and detailed:

So what do I think? Firstly it is awesome that a company publishes this kind of presentation, everyone should be proud of who they work for and have no problems articulating that to the public. I don’t think there are many companies who are so upfront, open and honest about who they are (in many cases even being aware would be a great start).

In particular I liked:

  • “adequate performance gets a generous severence package” – provocative but also highly motivating to myself at least. There is nothing better than being in a team where you know everyone cares as much as you do, and nothing worse than putting your heart into something that sits in someone’s “to do” list.
  • Brilliant Jerks –  the cost to teamwork is too high. I have had managers who make excuses for a brilliant jerk because they hate the thought of rehiring for a person that is currently letting them put their feet up.
  • Rare Responsible Person – Doesn’t wait to be told what to do, Never feels “that’s not my job”. Everyone should pitch in, no-one should feel territorial. If I am struggling I will put my hand up and ask for advice, and I expect others to do the same and welcome my input.
  • Value simplicity – No-one can manage lots of small products successfully. Focus on what works, and keep making it work even better.
  • High Performance People make few errors – Hire well, trust your people to do their job. Don’t cotton wool bad people and have checks and balances to make sure they don’t do damage. That adds huge amounts of waste and overhead.
  • Control through context– Managers should communicate a clear strategy and whatever happens within that strategy is up to the employee.

What did you get out of it? Does your company even have a policy or statement on culture?

What is Social CRM?

Social CRM is a buzz word that is spiralling out of control at the moment. What does it mean? I googled around and didn’t really find a consistent message. Instead I am going to explain my interpretation, let me know if you think it makes sense.

Social networks have two strong points, they are full of customers that are linked by relationships. These are the first two letters of CRM! The multi-billion dollar question is how can you manage them without destroying them or being seen as an evil spy.

Social CRM Feedback Loop

Social CRM Feedback Loop

The first step towards Social CRM is using social networks as a feedback loop for your customer relations programs. Who better to learn from than your customers themselves? It’s the perfect way to refine your customer relations processes and add another source of feedback and innovation into your company.

The next stage is to develop relationships with your customers. From a business perspective I would assume that this is due to repeat business delivering higher margins, mostly because it doesn’t require expensive mass marketing or other customer acquisition. Businesses justify it to consumers by saying it gives the customer an opportunity to dictate and receive a personalised product.

I like idealistic goals, I think when you are talking about customers it is good to at least aim towards being noble. The question is, how many businesses intentions are simply to maintain the margins of their mass market product?

As with everything in life there will be a balancing point, somewhere in the feedback gathering process I think the social networks will reject further interference. That balancing point is what Facebook and others are thinking day and night about, and the point they have crossed at times with projects such as Facebook Beacon. If a social network hits that point perfectly there is definitely big money at stake, but until then companies need to monitor the social networks in their backyard and just listen. There are plenty of companies that struggle to do that internally, let alone through fast moving external networks.

The Top-Down effect

The org chart shows the culture flow

A company culture is something that is very difficult to describe, let alone create. One of the blogs I read, systematicHR, posted up an interesting response post which covers the top-down flow effect that a CEO has on company culture. I think the closing lines sum it up very nicely:

The CEO absolutely defines culture whether they intend to or not.  HR then further defines what that strategy will look like.

So what are some ways that a CEO can do this? Well I like realestate.com.au‘s approach of having a CEO blog and bi-annual company conferences where the CEO presents the company achievements, strategy and goals. Just engaging in this open communication helps create an open culture, but the real key is in the actual organisational strategy. As the post says, this strategy will directly dictate culture and will change depending on the nature of the business.

Having worked in a sales organisation almost 5 years I would say there is a very fine line between a competitive and a demoralising organisational strategy (and therefore company culture). The nature of sales people and cycles makes this line a fluctuating target. The two biggest things I believe are:

  • Consistency – client spread, discipline, sense of fairness
  • Communication – Competitive but still collaborative (teams help)

In the end I guess the key is to clearly communicate and inspire passion for what you do. People will pick this up whether it is active or passive and positive or negative. The moral of the story is be aware of your influence.

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